RUSS 086 / LITR 086R, Fall 2018
Tuesday and Thursday, 2:40-3:55
Kohlberg 330

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340
tel. 610-328-8162
Home Page:>

Office Hours, Fall 2018:
Tuesday, 10:00-11:00
Wednesday, 4:00-5:00
Thursday, 1:00-2:00
...or by appointment

Readings | Assignments | Syllabus

From pre-Christian folklore based in forest, steppe and tundra to today’s Neo-Pagans, Russian culture has been close to nature, developing sustainable agricultural practices, honoring “Moist Mother Earth,” heading from city residences to summer in the ancestral village, visiting favorite secret spots to gather berries and mushrooms. Industrial development was slow in the pre-Revolutionary period, and in many ways the majority peasant population continued the traditional way of life. After 1917, Soviet policy planned to redesign whole landscapes, make rivers flow backwards, and even change the nature of plant genetics. In practice, projects like these oppressed convict laborers and local populations, shrank the Aral Sea, and led to massive pollution and the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Writers in Russia have both supported industrial transformation and resisted industrialization. This traces the evolution of these elements of Russian culture, focusing on expressions of ideology in literature.

No knowledge of Russian is necessary; students with Russian language skills may choose to do some reading in the original.

Course Goals:

  1. To learn abut the environment and environmental history of Russia's huge land mass, and how they are reflected in Russian literature and culture
  2. To pursue one area of interest through more focused research to a final paper and presentation
  3. To practice writing about the intersections of science, technology and nature with folklore, literature and other forms of cultural production.

This web version of the syllabus will be updated throughout the semester as necessary; please bookmark it and consider it the authoritative source.

Fall 2018 Accommodations Statement
If you believe you need accommodations for a disability or a chronic medical condition, please contact Student Disability Services (Parrish 113W, 123W) or email to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, the office will issue students with documented disabilities a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Services Website at You are also welcome to contact me (SF) privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged through Student Disability Services.

To Buy in the Bookstore or Otherwise Acquire:

  1. Ivan Turgenev, Sketches from a Hunter's Album (NB: This has been translated under a number of similar titles; I chose the one that looked least expensive while still of good quality.)
  2. John Scott, Behind the Urals
  3. Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows
  4. Valentin Rasputin, Farewell to Matyora
  5. Fazil Iskander, The Goatibex Constellation
  6. Julia Voznesenskaya, The Star Chernobyl
  7. Margaret Paxson, Solovyovo

Other readings will be provided on Moodle.


  1. Class Blog: post about 500 words each week of comments or questions about the reading, after the first week. This is a good place to float ideas for paper topics. A link to the course blog is at the top of the Moodle page for this course; let me know if you have any trouble with it.
  2. First, short paper is due October 2. 5 pages on reflections of the environment in one of the works we have read.
  3. A one-hour, take-home midterm examination, self-scheduled, due by 9 p.m on October 11.
  4. Second, longer paper, due November 20: 10 pages examining how one work we have read presents issues of environmental degradation, protection or restoration.
  5. At some point during the semester: a 10- or 15-minute oral presentation based on one of the background reading sources. Pick something related to your final project!
  6. Final project: composing or editing a page on Wikipedia, or more than one page (total added verbiage: 3000 words). You may choose to work on an issue from the list below (or a similar issue selected after consultation with the professor), or to add environmentally relevant information to an article on an important writer or scientist, or on a place or topic. This will require further reading as well as compiling information from our class texts. Let the professor know your initial topic(s) by October 11. We will start the Wikipedia “course” right after fall break (they walk you through what you need to know to do the work properly, with the nice side effect that after this you’ll be a confident Wikipedia editor and participant). Have your topic preliminarily decided by the week after fall break. Be ready to speak about it in class December 11; the final page must be completed no later than December 22.

Potential Final Project Topics:

  1. Traditional agricultural and forest “trade” practices (hunting, fishing, woodcutting) and their relationship to the environment; traditions of sustainability in fragile ecosystems
  2. Russian Orthodox religion and the human presence (nature-loving saints; monastery properties; the ecology of the Solovki islands)
  3. >Peasantry into proletariat: Marxist and Bolshevik theories and their implications for people’s relationship with the earth
  4. Peasant writers as distinct voices about the earth (Poets: Kol'tsov; Kliuev; Esenin; Village Prose writers: Abramov, Belov, Rasputin, Soloukhin, Solzhenitsyn; post-Soviet prose about the village)
  5. Sakhalin then and now – starting with Anton Chekhov’s book Sakhalin Island and Bruce Grant’s In the Soviet House of Culture
  6. The GULag environment over time; humans in extreme conditions, mining the GULag
  7. Vavilov versus Lysenko and the (unproductive but very influential) ideologization of botany
  8. Trashing the neighbors: industrial projects in the non-Russian former Soviet republics, or exporting Soviet-style industry to socialist Eastern Europe
  9. Lake Baikal
  10. The Aral Sea
  11. The Soviet space program, or the Russian space program today
  12. Use value versus prestige: industrial production and the Socialist-era consumer
  13. The closed city: academic and technical silos; Irina Grekova’s At the Tests
  14. Post-Soviet clean-up (or not)
  15. The Baltic Sea, or the Black Sea, or the White Sea
  16. Protected land in Russia today
  17. The Far East
  18. The Russian Arctic
  19. Native peoples and the environment
  20. Protected species and poachers in Russia today
  21. Nuclear power and the environment
  22. The impact of climate change in Russia and steps government officials or private individuals are taking – or not.
  23. If you read Russian: the treatment of nature in “close range” science fiction of the 1940s and early 1950s (Aleksandr Petrovich Kazantsev, Vladimir Ivanovich Nemtsov, Aleksandr Nikolaevich Studitskii)
  24. The connections of environmental activism with political dissidence

Partial Bibliography



Week 1: September 4

September 6

Readings for September 6: excerpt from The Primary Chronicle; excerpt from Linda Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief; excerpts from Neonila Krinichnaya, Forest Delusions (all on Moodle)
(Background reading: Richard Pipes, “The Environment and Its Consequences,” from Pipes, Russia Under the Old Regime, pp. 1-24, on Moodle.)

Week 2: September 11

Readings for Sepetmber 11: Ivan Turgenev, Sketches from a Hunter's Album (bookstore): "Khor and Kalynich" (pp. 15-28), "Yermolay and the Miller's Wife" (29-41), "Farmer Ovsyannikov" (70-87), "Bezhin Lea" (99-120), "Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands" (121-140), "Loner" (173-181), "Death" (217-230), "Meeting" (265-274), "Living Relic" (354-367), "Forest and Steppe" (383-390)

September 13

Readings for September 13: dLeo Tolstoy, excerpts from Anna Karenina (Part I, Chapters XXVI and XXVII, and Part II, Chapters XII and XIII; Turgenev, "A Journey to Polesje," pp. 308-325; Jane Costlow, "Walking into the Woodland with Turgenev," from Costlow, Heart-Pine Russia, pp. 17-39, all on Moodle
(Background readings: Olga Semynova Tian-Shanskaya, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, chapters 8-9, pp. 117-156, on Moodle.)

Weeb 3: September 18

Readings for September 18: Fedor Gladkov, excerpt from Cement, pp. 12-18 (on Moodle); John Scott, Behind the Urals (bookstore)

September 20

Readings for September 20: Paul Josephson et al., “From Geographic Determinism to Political and Economic Factors,” in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 1-22; Andrei Platonov, from The Sun, the Moon, and the Ether Channel, pp. 584-615; Valentin Kataev, excerpts from Time, Forward!, pp. 42-48, 72-75, 84-49, 93-98, all on Moodle
Background reading: Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization)

Week 4: September 25

Reading for September 25: Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows (bookstore); Vladimir Korolenko, excerpt from In a Hungry Year (on Moodle); excerpt from The Primary Chronicle (on Moodle)

September 27
Readings for Septeber 27: Josephson et al., "From Imperial to Socialist Nature Preservation: Environmental Protection and Resource Development in the Russian Empire," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 23-70.
Background readings: Richard G. Robbins Jr., Famine in Russia 1891-1892: The Imperial Government Responds to a Crisis; Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization)

Week 5: October 2

Readings for October 2: Anton Chekhov, excerpt from Sakhalin Island, pp. 128-136 (on Moodle); Varlam Shalamov, selections from Kolyma Tales (on Moodle)

October 4

Readings for October 4: Excerpts from Gorky, ed., Belomor, pp. 17-23, 59-64, 73-87, 289-297; excerpts from Evgeniia Ginzburg, Within the Whirlwind; excerpts from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The GULag Archipelago, all on Moodle
Background readings: Josephson et al., "Stalinism: Creating the Socialist Industrial, Urban, and Agricultural Environment," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 71-135; Galina M. Ivanova, Labor Camp Socialism: The Gulag in the Soviet Totalitarian System, ed. by Donald Raleigh, trans. by Carol Flath)

Week 6: October 9

Readings for October 9: Valentin Rasputin, Farewell to Matyora (bookstore); Aleksei Leonov, "Kondyr" (on Moodle)
Background readings: Kathleen Parthé, "'Kondyr': A Parametric Analysis," from Russian Village Prose: The Radiant Past, pp. 140-148 (on Moodle); Paul Josephson et al., "The Khrushchev Reforms, Environmental Politics, and the Awakening of Environmentalism, 1953-1964," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 136-183

October 11
Readings for October 11: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Matryona's Yard"; Vladimir Soloukhin, "Stepanida's Funeral," all on Moodle. Background reading: Kathleen R. Parthé, Russian Village Prose: The Radiant Past)


Week 7: October 23

Readings for October 23: Leo Tolstoy, "How Much land Does a Man Need?" (on Moodle); Nikolai Zlatovratskii, "The Happy Peasant's Dream" (excerpt from the novel Foundations, on Moodle)
Background Readings: Henri Troyat, Daily Life in Russia Under the Last Tsar; Anton Chekhov, Sakhalin Island; Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, ed. David Ransel)

October 25: NO CLASS (professor is away at a conference) Work on your second paper and [ursue the Wikipedia "course."

Week 8: October 30

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow (on Moodle)
Background readings: Ethan Pollock, Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars; Anindita Banerjee, We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity; James T. Andrews, Red Cosmos: K. E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry; Asif A. Siddiqi, The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857-1957

November 1
Reading for November 1`: Ethan Pollock, excerpt from Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars (on Moodle)

Week 9: November 6

Fazil' Iskander, The Goatibex Constellation (purchase)
Background readings: Josephson et al., “Developed Socialism, Environmental Degradation, and the Time of Economic ‘Stagnation,’ 1964-1985,” in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 184-253; Andrei Bitov, The Monkey Link; Peter Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin’s Persecution of One of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Scientists; Roli-Hansen, Nils.The Lysenko Effect: The Politics of Science; David Dent, Soil as World Heritage

November 8

Week 10: November 13

Svetlana Alexievich, excerpts from Voices from Chernobyl (on Moodle)
Background readings: Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, trans. by Keith Gessen; Grigorii Medvedev, The Truth About Chernobyl; Alla Yaroshinskaya, Chernobyl: The Forbidden Truth, trans. by Michèle Kahn and Julia Sallabank, foreword by John Gofman, Intro. by David R. Marpes

November 15
Reading for November 15: Iuliia Voznesenskaya, The Star Chernobyl (purchase)

Week 11: November 20

Margaret Paxson, Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village (bookstore); Vasily Shukshin, "Wolves" and excerpts from From the Childhood Years of Ivan Popov, from Stories from a Siberian Village, pp. 127-133, 228-235 (on Moodle)
Background readings: Josephson et al., "Gorbachev’s Reforms, Glasnost, and Econationalism," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 254-286; Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva, The Worlds of Russian Village Women: Tradition, Transgression, Compromise


Week 12: November 27

Readings for November 27: Vyacheslav Gerovich and Anton Struchkov, "Epilogue: Russian Reflections," 9 pp.; Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, "Wolves," from The Tragic Menagerie, pp. 20-37; Anatoly Kim, excerpts from Father Forest, all on Moodle
Background readings: Josephson et al., "Conclusion: After the Breakup of the Soviet Union: Inheriting the Environmental Legacy," in An Environmental History of Russia, pp. 287-320; Leonid Leonov, The Russian Forest: A Novel; Feliks Shtilmark, History of the Russian Zapovedniks 1895-1995

November 29
Reading for November 29; Excerpts from Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva, The Worlds of Russian Village Women: Tradition, Transgression, Compromise, on Moodle

Week 13: December 4

Readings for December 4: Vladimir Korolenko, "Svetloyar: In a Wild and Holy Place," translated by Jane Costlow, pp. 222-236; Elena Hellberg-Hirn, "Mother Russia: Soil and Soul," from Hellbirg-Hirn, Soil and Soul: The Symbolic World of Russianness, pp. 111-135; Poems by Velimir Khlebnikov and Nikolai Kliuev (all on Moodle)
Background readings: Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe; Jane I. Dawson, Eco-Nationalism: Anti-Nuclear Activism and National Identity in Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine

Brief presentations of your final projects.

December 6: NO CLASS (professor away at a conference). Work on your WIkipedia assignment; read ahead ofr next Tuesday.

December 11 - last class!

Readingfor December 11: Excerpts from Anby Bruno, The Nature of Soviet Power: An Arctic Environmental History (on Moodle)

Brief presentations of your final projects.

The final Wikipedia work is due by 5:00 p.m. on DECEMBER 22. If you choose to edit an existing page or pages, copy and save the original text from online to submit with your additions. Whether you are editing or creating work, save the result in a file to submit to me. I’ll also check Wikipedia to see what happens, but things could be edited and changed before I get there.